The name of Johnny Bench comes up quickly any time the conversation turns to the shortlist of the greatest catchers in Major League Baseball history. As a 14-time National League All-Star and two-time league MVP, his credentials made Bench as easy choice as a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
Johnny Bench was a superb defensive catcher
Although numbers as a hitter generally get more attention in award balloting, his work behind the plate had as much to do with Johnny Bench being named the National League MVP in 1970 and ’72 as his hitting did.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Bench adopted and perfected the one-handed catching style that protected his throwing hand from foul tips. His quick release and strong arm made Bench the most feared catcher in generations for opposing baserunners, helping him earn 10 career Gold Gloves.
His Hall of Fame plaque inscription starts by saying Bench “redefined standards by which catchers are measured.” That began with him setting a league rookie record by catching 154 games and handing the duties in 100 or more games in each of his first 13 seasons.
A key member of the Big Red Machine
Johnny Bench helped power the Cincinnati Reds to six division championships, four pennants, and two World Series titles. Although just a .267 career hitter, he set the major-league record for home runs by a catcher before being eclipsed by Carlton Fisk and then Mike Piazza.
The 1968 NL Rookie of the Year led the league in home runs twice and RBIs three times, also becoming the first catcher to lead the National League in total bases in a season when he piled up 315 in 1974.
He was also a .266 hitter in the postseason with 10 home runs in 45 games, including five in the World Series. He was the MVP of the 1976 World Series as the Reds swept the New York Yankees.
Bench played his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds. He spent the final three years of his career primarily as a corner infielder, and his totals included 389 homers and 1,376 RBIs.
The Johnny Bench Award has been presented to the top Division I catcher since 2008.
Johnny Bench has a modest net worth
Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, now 72, played in an era before salaries in Major League Baseball took off. His first $100,000 contract was for the 1973 season and his final five-year deal signed ahead of the 1978 season averaged $400,000. However, he also picked up significant endorsement deals during his playing days, including becoming the first individual player to appear on a Wheaties box.
After retiring, Bench did some radio and TV work on baseball broadcasts and hosted The Baseball Bunch, a syndicated show teaching the sport to children. Bench has been married four times and has three suns. He has been living in Florida and raising his two youngest boys. His net worth is reported to be approximately $5 million.